By TJ Johnston
Unhoused youth checking in at a navigation center in the Haight. North Beach homeless residents accessing lodging within walking distance of the piers.
That could happen under Supervisor Matt Haney’s proposal to open the low-threshold shelters in each supervisorial district. If approved, the ordinance would require a navigation center to open within six months in each of two districts where none have previously existed. It would also mandate that each of the 11 districts open a center within a 30-month timeframe.
Haney introduced the legislation last month partly in response to the heated debate surrounding the establishment of an Embarcadero navigation center, which the City’s Port Commission unanimously approved of last month.
Also a factor is the concentration of such centers in the eastern side of the city.
The Embarcadero center would be the third inside Haney’s District 6. One at the Civic Center Hotel on 12th Street has been operating since 2016. The other is at 680 Bryant St., across the street from the city’s largest emergency shelter at MSC South.
The other four active centers are spread throughout the districts of Haney’s co-sponsors: Hillary Ronen’s District 9 and Shamann Walton’s District 10.
In crafting the legislation, Haney said that it’s time for each district in the City to have at least one place accommodating unsheltered people.
“Navigation Centers have been opened in only three out the 11 supervisorial districts, even though (1) the Board of Supervisors has declared there to be a ‘shelter crisis’ in the City and County of San Francisco, (2) the Navigation Center model has proven to be successful, and (3) there is a significant number of people experiencing homelessness in every supervisorial district,” the ordinance reads.
The City’s latest tally of the homeless population in 2017 shows that almost 7,500 San Franciscans live without stable housing, with the largest clusters in Haney, Walton and Ronen’s districts, respectively.
So, a requirement of each district hosting a center could serve unhoused people in other neighborhoods. Vallie Brown, whose district includes the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, could finally get a youth-serving center. District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin might be able to secure a waterfront-adjacent site in the City’s northeastern corner after previous attempts fell through. Also, a vehicular “triage center” — such as one Ronen and Ahsha Safaí suggested in separate proposals — could come to fruition. According to Jennifer Friedenbach of the Coalition on Homelessness, which publishes Street Sheet, “There may be a need for solutions in every district, but the Navigation Center does not not permanently solve homelessness. It would be helpful, for example to add housing or residential treatment centers to the districts who don’t have Navigation Centers, to meet the unique needs of a diverse homeless population.”
In March, the Board of Supervisors already passed a separate measure that streamlines the permit process and speeds hiring of contractors who build such facilities. But even if the board passes Haney’s bill and Mayor London Breed signs it, there’s still the task of identifying locations and meeting appropriate conditions.
Those conditions, Homelessness Department director Jeff Kositsky told City officials and the media, include the site’s connection to public utilities, ability to house several people and proximity to public transportation. He also noted financial considerations: landowners must be willing to lease or sell the property, and building costs would ideally be kept under $3 million.
Should the board pass the legislation and the City get its ducks in a row with finding sites, it’s possible that the rejected lots by the waterfront could come back into play. Other locations that the City passed on might be reconsidered, such as the old KRON4 building on Van Ness Avenue and a former Pottery Barn outlet in the Castro District.